The Very Real Problem of Nursing Home Abuse


The scary, unavoidable fact about nursing homes is that once elderly patients are admitted, they are subject to the risk of abuse. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, those who live in such conditions must rely on caregivers for almost every aspect of daily life. Residents rely on the nursing home and its staff for shelter, food, medicine, hygiene, dental work, entertainment and nearly every other basic necessity. Thus, nursing home residents are incredibly vulnerable to abuse.

Chilling Testimony

In a chilling observation during court testimony regarding the rape of her mother by a nursing home caregiver, Maya Fischer said the following: “At 83 years old, unable to speak, unable to fight back, she was even more vulnerable than she was as a little girl fleeing her homeland. In fact, she was as vulnerable as an infant when she was raped.” This vulnerability applies to many nursing home residents.

Failure to Respond

As observed in a CNN investigation, the problem persists because of a systematic breakdown. Authorities fail to take accusations seriously. A person suffering from dementia appears less credible than a seemingly sound-of-mind caregiver. As a result, the victim’s pleading goes unheard. And it’s not just authorities; families may also ignore the cries for help for the same reasons.


The fact is nursing home abuse runs rampant in a country unwilling to pay attention. Catherine Hawes collated much of the relevant research in her paper, “Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America (2003). According to Hawes, the problem is very likely as prominent as child abuse.

Approximately 2.5 million people live in 45,000 residential facilities or 17,000 nursing homes.

And according to the US Census Bureau, 20 percent of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2030, meaning a huge portion of the population could potentially be exposed to the risk of abuse. A study conducted in Georgia in 2000 found that 44 percent of survey respondents had experienced some form of abuse and 95 percent had been neglected in some fashion. And according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, 1 out of every 10 Americans over the age of 60 have been subject to some form of nursing home abuse. That same organization found that only 1 in 14 cases are reported.

The State-of Affairs in Colorado

As observed by Leventhal Sar LLC, Colorado nursing home residents have been suffering from abuse. Of the complaints received by Colorado Adult Protective Services (CAPS) during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, 60 percent were related to abuse (physical and sexual), exploitation and neglect. About a third of those complaints were proven to be true. Another third remained unsettled.

Course of Action

It’s clear that this type of abuse is a major problem. Thus, it’s important not to perpetuate the systematic suppression of the issue. To that end, there are a number of signs to look for if you have a loved one in a nursing home or elderly residential facility. These include poor hygiene, bed sores, sharp changes in mood and personality and visible marks on the body, to name a few. You may also want to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior amongst the caregivers and other staff. The bottom line is this: don’t brush off complaints made by your loved one and if you have a feeling, follow it. It’s better to commence an inquiry and find out you’re wrong than to do nothing at all and find out the worst-case-scenario is true.

If you feel your loved one is in danger of abuse or is being abused, it’s advisable to consult a lawyer with experience in nursing home abuse cases. It’s better to arm yourself against the inevitable obstacles by having an attorney on your side than to take on this gargantuan task yourself.

Sean Lally About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.